Luke 18 records the parable of the Persistent Widow. It is the only time in scripture that the parable is recorded. In many ways it is a straight forward parable. Luke begins by stating that Jesus is telling this parable so that the disciples will understand their need to pray always and to not give up. His explanation is followed by the parable. In a town there was a judge who neither feared God or respected people. In many ways he was a crummy judge who enjoyed his power and the prestige that came from his position. He had no sympathy that would cause him to do a kind thing because it was the right thing to do. In the same town there was a widow, one of the lowest of society with very few rights, who was being taken advantage of and preyed upon. Day after day she came to the judge asking for justice, but the judge ignored her because she meant nothing to him. However, over time he finally decided that she was driving him crazy and in an effort to get rid of her he granted her request for justice. How much more than will God grant justice to those who cry out day after day for help.
Clearly Jesus is encouraging the disciples to be persistent in prayer. Jesus wants to make sure that they never give up, that they continue to ask, and that they continue to pursue God. But why? The parable ends with an interesting question from Jesus. “Yet when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” Somehow this persistence in prayer is about faith. Being persistent in prayer is not about wearing God down in order to get what you want or if you want something strong enough and ask long enough you will finally get it. It’s not even about how quickly Jesus answers prayers. Persistence in prayer is about faith. It is about refusing to give up in difficult times. It is about continuing to hope even when everyone else would turn away. It is about believing in the reality and goodness of God even when every sign tries to point in the opposite direction.
Jesus gives this encouragement because he has just reminded them that difficult days are coming. In the last part of Luke 17 Jesus presents one of his eschatological discourses. It’s one of those moments when Jesus reminds his listeners that the end will come quickly. He uses reminders from scripture (Noah and the Ark, Lot and his family leaving Sodom) to help illustrate his point that the end comes when it is least expected. Jesus is encouraging them to be ready and prepared; to live life with the end in sight. Mixed in with his encouragement about the end is a reminder that life until that moment will be difficult. “The days are coming when you will long to see the day of the Son of Man, but you will not see it.” (Luke 17:22) “But first he must endure much suffering.” (Luke 17:25) This journey with God will not be easy. Persecution is coming. Dark days are coming. There will be moments when you will wonder if it is even worth it. “Yet when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Luke 18:8)
The persistence in prayer then is not about remembering to ask so that it will be given to you, but is an encouragement to persevere to the end. You will suffer injustice in life. There will be those who take advantage of you. There will be times when it seems easier to cheat and lie in order to advance in your job or in life. And there may even be times when you wonder if this God thing is even real because the life that is promised by the preacher at church doesn’t seem to be a reality in your own life. It’s in these moments, when you are about to give up, that you have to decide, do I still believe? Do I have enough faith to continue to believe through the valley? Do I have enough faith to continue to trust even when many would say just curse God and die? What will I stake my life to?
Jesus’s encouragement from the persistent widow is not just about continuing to pray and asking God for help, but is about a devotion and trust that says I will not give up. Jesus is telling them ahead of time, before the storm comes, that God is a faithful judge. Don’t give up when times are hard. Continue to trust. Continue to believe. Have faith. God will not abandon you.